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there was "no reasonable cause for this extraordinary excitement," and her purpose "not to surrender the principles she has always entertained on the subject of slavery." New York said that her acceptance of Virginia's invitation must not be construed as an indorsement of "the propositions submitted by the General Assembly of that State," while Illinois expressed the opinion that no amendment of the Constitution was needed to give "to the slaveholding States adequate guaranties for the security of their rights." A similar sentiment was expressed by Indiana. South Carolina was of course not content with a simple refusal to send delegates, but accompanied that refusal with the unequivocal expression of her want of sympathy with the proposed objects of the meeting. "We do not deem it advisable," she said with characteristic effrontery and defiant words, "to initiate negotiations when we have no desire or intention to promote the object in view." Expressing her entire lack of "confidence in the Federal government of the United States," she said the separation of South Carolina, which she now regarded "a foreign state," was "final."
The delegates met in Washington, at Willard's Hall, on the fourth day of February. John C. Wright of Ohio was made temporary chairman, and John Tyler of Virginia permanent president. A series of rules, reported by a committee, was adopted. The president, on taking the chair, made an earnest and impassioned address, depicting the perils surrounding the Republic, the difficulties of the situation, and the glory of the achievement, if they could "snatch from ruin a great and glorious confederation, preserve the government and invigorate the Constitution." He spoke of the "blunder" of the fathers "in not having fixed on every fifth decade for a call to amend and reform the Constitution, which, he said, was perfect for five millions, but not wholly so as to thirty millions."
On the third day, on motion of James Guthrie of Kentucky, Secretary of the Treasury under the administration of Mr. Pierce, a committee of one from each State was appointed, to which should be "referred the resolutions of Virginia and the
other States represented, and all propositions for the adjustment of existing difficulties." James A. Seddon of Virginia proposed, as the basis for deliberation and action, the resolu tions which his State had forwarded in connection with her invitation. The next day the convention called in person on President Buchanan.
But the difficulties in the way of harmonizing the views of the committee were too great to be easily overcome. Though an earlier day had been specified in the resolutions themselves for making the report, yet on the eighth day the chairman reported its inability to agree, and asked for the extension of time two days further. The next day, however, the committee presented a report, adopted by a vote of twelve to eleven. It proposed, in substance, that the parallel of 36°30′ should separate the territory in which slavery should be prohibited from that in which it should be permitted, while under a Territorial government; that when admitted as States, slavery should be permitted or prohibited as the constitutions adopted by them should provide; that neither the Constitution nor any amendment thereof should be construed to give to Congress the right to abolish, regulate, or control slavery in any State, Territory, or the District of Columbia, or to prohibit the interState slave-trade; that the United States may not acquire territory without the consent of four fifths of the Senate; that the Constitution shall not be so construed as to prevent States from returning fugitives from service; that the foreign slavetrade shall be prohibited; and that the United States shall pay the full value of slaves which any marshal shall fail to return through intimidation or violent rescue. Minority reports and additional resolutions and suggestions were presented by Field of New York, Crowninshield of Massachusetts, Baldwin of Connecticut, Seddon of Virginia, and Wickliffe of Kentucky.
From these reports the general character of the convention and the probable scope of its recommendations might be inferred. While the free States were represented by some who remained true to freedom and the cause of patriotism, they were in a decided minority. Indeed, the more active and pro
nounced antislavery men were averse to the movement, and looked upon its probable action and influence with distrust. Mr. Sumner thus characterized its action: "Forbearing all details, it will be enough to say that they undertook to give to slavery positive protection in the Constitution, with new sanction and immunity, making it, notwithstanding the determination of our fathers, national instead of sectional'; and even more than this, making it one of the essential and permanent parts of our republican system."
The general tone of the convention was strongly conservative, and its spirit was decidedly, not to say intensely, Southern. The circumstances, too, were adverse to that careful and dispassionate consideration of and firm adherence to principle which the exigency of the occasion demanded. The very haste with which the appointments of commissioners were made,but a fortnight intervening between the date of the call and that of the convention, the urgent pressure for immediate action, and the very haze of uncertainty which at the time enveloped and magnified everything future, forbade that calm and careful consideration which a wise and safe decision demanded. From the start extreme men took the lead, and by their determined and demonstrative manner made it difficult for the more moderate members to maintain a position even much less advanced than that demanded by the general sentiment of the North.
Among these Southern leaders was Seddon of Virginia. Well representing the pretentious school of Southern statesmen, he uttered his slaveholding demands and the doctrine of State-rights as if the Old Dominion spoke with an authority akin to that of the "divine right of kings." Not, seemingly, unmindful of all claims of patriotism or of the honor of the flag, he deprecated and sought to avert open rupture. He had not at that time taken that final leap in the dark he soon did take, when he joined his fortunes with his seceding State, and became the Secretary of War in the new Confederacy. But he always seemed chiefly solicitous lest slavery should receive detriment, and was more anxious to guard that than his country's honor and integrity. And not only for slavery as
and where it then existed was he solicitous; he would provide against all possible contingencies whenever and wherever existing.
This purpose appeared very plainly in a debate on an amendment of Reverdy Johnson of Maryland to insert the word "present" in one of the proposed amendments of the Constitution, thereby restricting its operation to territory then held. Mr. Johnson had said that he "spoke for the South and to the South," had avowed his desire to guard the system of slavery against harm, and deprecated separation and anything that would create further agitation upon the subject. Content with the present domain, he wisely counselled against further enlargement, with the dangers that must accompany it. To this restrictive policy Seddon interposed his most emphatic objections. Of Mr. Johnson's speech he said: "I lis tened with sadness to many parts of it. I bemoan that tones so patriotic could not rise to the level of the high ground of equality and right, upon which we all ought to stand." He inveighed bitterly against limiting the proposed amendments of the Constitution to territory already possessed. In view of the constant immigration and growth of the nation, such a restriction he stigmatized as "a farce."
With complacent and grandiloquent laudation he alluded to Virginia and her "memories," to the glorious part she had borne in the past, and to that he desired her to bear in "the great national crisis " through which they were passing. "She comes," he said, "to present to you calmly and plainly the question whether new guaranties are needed for her rights; and she tells you what those guaranties ought to be," - in substance, "security against the principles of the North and her great and now dominant party; to put an end to the discussions which have convulsed the country and jeopardized our institutions." Indulging in the common but unmeaning platitudes concerning the providential "mission" of the South towards "these colored barbarians," he, by a very 'natural transition, launched forth upon the usual invective against the antislavery spirit and Abolition societies of the North. Attributing them to "British instigation, put forth to disrupt
this Republic," he contended that, through their influence, the abstraction of slaves had become "a virtue," and the raid of John Brown had been celebrated as the exploit of a Christian hero. They, too, had "destroyed the grand old Whig party," had formed the "Free Soil" party, and "finally your great Republican party; in other words, your great sectional party which has come to majority and power." He closed by assuring the convention that the only way by which Virginia could be held back from following the seven States which had already seceded was by granting the additional guaranties recommended, though in his judgment they should be "fuller and greater."
But entreaty rather than menace was the underlying idea, the animating spirit of the convention. As ever, appeals to patriotism and the need of harmony constituted the staple of argument and motive. In this strain spoke Mr. Guthrie. Though avowedly devoted to Southern institutions, he deprecated revolution, counselled moderation, and expressed the hope that," without crimination or recrimination," they would "vote in good temper and good time," and thus go before Congress and the people. Chauncey L. Cleveland of Connecticut urged similar considerations. "Let us be gentle and pleasant," he said. "Let us love one another. Let us not try to find out who is smartest or keenest. Let us vote soon, and without any feeling or quarrelling." He indorsed the report, and predicted that its adoption would preserve the peace and union of the country.
Though the advocates of slavery and compromise were largely in the ascendant, freedom and political integrity were not without defenders. Among them was ex-Governor George S. Boutwell of Massachusetts, afterwards Secretary of the Treasury and member of the United States Senate. Far from extreme in his opinions, and making concessions which many antislavery men would not have made, he met at the threshold the pretensions and policy of the imperious Virginian. Massachusetts, he said, was opposed to slavery, but she confined her opposition within constitutional limits. She loved the Union; but she would not seek its preservation by the remedies pro